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iPhone Nano to have no storage, all cloud based


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Several reports have popped up in the past week saying that Apple is planning to release a lower cost "iPhone nano," but there's now a new twist. The new phone is expected to come with a revamped MobileMe service, enabling streaming video and music. However, a new report suggests Apple may ditch internal storage entirely and rely exclusively on MobileMe cloud services for all the device's data needs. Apple doesn't exactly have the best reputation when it comes to cloud services, so we decided to explore how realistic that prediction really is.

"Apple is considering making MobileMe a free service that would serve as a 'locker' for personal memorabilia such as photos, music and videos, eliminating the need for devices to carry a lot of memory," the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. Relying on cloud services would let Apple use much less flash memory for a lower-cost "nano," as NAND flash chips represent a large part of the cost of standard iPhone models.

According to an anonymous source speaking to Cult of Mac, Apple actually plans to take the idea even further, by eliminating all the flash storage typically used in most iPhone models. Instead, all content would allegedly come from MobileMe over the network, and things like photos and other data created on the device would be automatically uploaded to a user's MobileMe storage space. "It would be a mostly cloud-based iOS," the source said.

Mac-focused blog The Loop suggested that Apple might instead implement the service by using MobileMe as a sort of data index, keeping track of all your music, video, contacts, e-mail, etc. When you need some particular data on your iPhone nano, MobileMe would connect to your Mac or PC at home, and stream the data directly from your computer to the phone.

Relying solely on the cloud, whatever the particular method, ignores the reality of wireless networks. Even in major cities, wireless data connections are not 100 percent ubiquitous. There are areas where connections are tenuous or nonexistent—suddenly, if you have zero bars, you would have zero data. As frustrating as it might be when you drop a data connection when trying to access a webpage, we believe the experience would be far more frustrating if your device became effectively useless anytime you went deep inside a large building, down into a basement, or on the subway.

While WiFi can help mitigate the problem somewhat, there's still the issue of how quickly data usage rates would skyrocket if a potential iPhone nano streams all its data from the cloud. Part of the alleged reasoning behind Apple releasing an iPhone nano is the ability to offer a lower-priced device, possibly without a contract. But what benefit would this lower-cost device offer consumers if it required them to pay yet higher monthly data bills?

None of these recent reports consider where or how apps would be stored, either, whether that would be on device or in the cloud. Would apps have to be downloaded every time they are run? Most certainly not, which means that they'd be cached in local storage. So why not just include enough storage to keep a good chunk of data on the device and stream large media files as needed? This makes more sense to us, especially since the current iOS development model is built around local apps running on the device, and with each app having its own space to store data as needed. In theory, that local store could be moved to the cloud and with data streamed in and cached automatically by iOS, but apps would still lose access to their data silos when the connection is down.

We are confident that Apple does indeed have some kind of major MobileMe revamp in the works, likely incorporating streaming media technology acquired from Lala and relying in some way on its massive North Carolina datacenter. But even a hypothetical iPhone nano won't be able to rely solely on cloud storage and still offer the user experience that iPhone users have come to expect—networks just aren't good enough, even in 2011.

We think it makes more sense for Apple to include closer to 8GB of flash-based storage—the same amount in the iPhone 3GS models sold for just $49 with a two-year contract—and augment it with cloud services, such as Pandora-like streaming of the contents of your iTunes library. Such a strategy has the side benefit of being useful to all iPhone users, and not just a rumored cheap iPhone nano.

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